Hollywood is a big rich town. Bright lights, city life, with many actors trying to make it. Power Book II: Ghost‘s star Michael Rainey Jr., knows all about that hustle as he continues to shine in his current role as our favorite young street-savvy hustler, Tariq St. Patrick. But don’t get it twisted; he’s got bigger ambitions than Ghost’s Queens Child Project.
The world of Hollywood is one of those industries where people work until they can no longer stand under those hot lights and in front of the cameras. It’s one of those businesses that are difficult to break into because of the hold seasoned vets have on the industry, constantly gobbling up every role out there.
But now and then, a bright young star grabs the attention of Hollywood execs and breaks through, quickly becoming a household name.
That’s where Michael Rainey Jr. comes in. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, raised in Staten Island, New York, by his father, Michael Rainey Sr., and mother, Shauna Small, Rainey Jr. began his acting career at the tender age of 10 with the film Un Altro Mundo. He built on that momentum with appearances in the popular Netflix series Orange Is The New Black, Ice Cube’s Barbershop: The Next Cut, Amateur, 211 and eventually, the Starz hit drama Power.
In the Courtney A. Kemp-created show in collaboration with 50 Cent, fans watched Rainey Jr.’s character, Tariq St. Patrick, grow from being a kid that some of us couldn’t stand at times to one of our favorite television characters on Power Book II: Ghost.
Speaking with the young icon that is Michael Rainey Jr. for our cover story, the still-rising star discusses with CASSIUSLife the experience of being a lead actor on the show that will now span four seasons. And he admits he is still learning to navigate and prepare for the challenges coming his way.
That boy ‘Riq has been getting around on foot for a long time. All this money he’s making, I don’t know what he’s spending it on.
Rainey Jr. also touches on the arc Riq has endured between Power and Power Book II: Ghost and still being shocked that fans have now grown to love his character.
We also discuss how he continues to flourish in his career, which tends to gobble up and spit out actors who embark on Hollywood stardom at a young age.
Of course, we had to touch on life after Power and the fear of being typecast because of his current devotion to the role of Tariq and whether or not he feels he is being overlooked during award season when it comes to his performance as Riq.
Step into the interview with Michael Rainey Jr. below.
Cassius Life: With two seasons of Power Book II: Ghost under your belt, a third season on the way and a fourth that just was announced… congrats on that… and plus, you being a lead actor on the show, how do you feel? What has the experience taught you so far?
Michael Rainey Jr.: Man, the experience taught me that just a lot of things would just happen very fast. Especially when you’re in a position like this, like being a lead of the show and everything like that, things happen fast, so you got to be prepared. You got to prepare very, very quickly.
This kind of business will kind of cause you to just be ready on the go. So, definitely, things happened fast, and I’ve been learning how to just prepare for things like that coming my way.
True. Now ‘Riq is an interesting character that we witness from the original Power series when he wasn’t so much a fan favorite to now being adored by watchers and viewers basically because of his street savviness and some of his similarities to his late father. What do you think when you see the reaction your character gets on social media and how he’s perceived by fans now?
Man, when I see it now, three, four years ago, I would not be expecting that. I did not think in a million years people would be writing some of the things they write about Tariq now, especially the show being based on him. They’re like, “Yo, we can’t wait for Tariq to come back. We can’t wait for the show to come back.”
So, I definitely didn’t think that that type of stuff would be said about Tariq three years ago, but now, obviously, when they first gave me the first script for season one, they kind of show that Tariq has things that he actually loves, and he has things that he has to worry about and real responsibilities. He actually does have a heart in the show. He has people he has to do stuff for. He has people that he has to take care of as far as his sis and grandma, so people kind of saw that, and I feel that’s what helped them resonate with him and see why he went the way he did with his actions, to kind of see the reasoning behind the things he has done.
So now, they’re kind of on his side. He’s still got to get some of them on his side, but for the most part, they’re rocking with team Riq now, so it’s definitely a crazy thing.
Fans also praise you for the stellar job you’re doing on the show, and me too as well, but do you feel you don’t receive a lot of recognition when it comes time for award season and things like that. And they do ponder, like, “Why isn’t Michael Rainey Jr. Getting love for his performance?” Do you feel like you’re being overlooked, or do you just put your head down and keep working and say, “My time is going to come eventually”?
I feel like everyone does what they do for a different reason. I feel like I’m in this for just the enjoyment. I like doing what I do. I like playing the role of Tariq. I love coming to the set and being with the cast and the crew every day. So that’s one part of it that I just look at and be like, “No, I get to do this every day.”
So I enjoy that. I don’t really look at it as far as being overlooked. Obviously, I’m not too oblivious to that, but I don’t really let that affect me too much, and I just let the work do what it does.
But when the time comes, the time comes, and if it doesn’t, then it doesn’t. But at the end of the day, the people, they resonate with the work, and that’s really what I do it for, for people that relate. People that I can get reactions out of.
50 [Cent] always told me, “You can’t bring the awards to the bank, so it don’t matter.” The first time he told me that, I was like, I could never really care or go too crazy about not being seen for some of these awards, so yeah. I definitely just do it for my enjoyment. So whatever followers, whatever comes with it, comes with it, but if it doesn’t come with it, it is what it is.
That is a great mindset to have. Being one of Hollywood’s brightest stars, you worked alongside some big names. I’m curious, have you picked up any techniques from your costars or people you worked with and added to your acting skills?
Oh yeah, definitely, 100%. Being on set for such a long time, eight or nine years with so many greats as Omari Hardwick, Joseph Sikora, 50 Cent, damn near everybody on the Power show. Larenz Tate, Shane Johnson, I learned a lot from everybody.
Even if it wasn’t spoken, even if they didn’t tell me, like, “No, this is what you got to do,” I just kind of observed everything on set, and I just saw what they do and saw how they operate. And especially with Omari, he was number one on Power, so we would always be following his lead, and I would always see how he would operate. So I would just try to observe and pick up everything, just absorb everything. Be a sponge, and just learn as I’m working with these greats, taking advantage of the opportunity that’s given to me.
So, obviously not just taking advantage of being on a platform and stuff like that, but taking advantage of being around such greats, being able to pick up things and work with them and pick their brains and stuff like that, so definitely.
You’ve been acting for a long time, since you were 10 years old, correct?
So now you’re 22. Now you’re a grown ass man. You can do some things now. Do people often ask you for advice, and do you give advice to other young actors under you and coming behind you?
Oh yeah, 100%. Of course, that’s another blessing, learning everything and then being able to pass it down so others that are trying to be in the same position as you and trying to join the same profession as you. For myself, this year during filming even during the hiatus, I went to a few colleges and spoke to students and that wanted to be in the business.
And even if they didn’t want to be in the acting business, any business they really wanted to be in, I kind of just went over there, spoke some words of inspiration and gave people kind of like how I operate in the world and in this business.
So definitely taking advantage of having a platform to be able to inspire people younger than me, even people my age or older. I take advantage of that every time, every chance I can get. I like to inspire people, so I definitely take part in that for sure.
Now, also, we did point out to your agent when you started and where you’re at now. A lot of young actors around your age group suffer burnout, and a lot of young actors are really not doing anything anymore, and you, fortunately, have been consistent in working and finding things to do. What techniques do you have? What do you do to keep yourself from burning out in this industry and stay afloat?
This industry is definitely timing. You got to pick your jobs wisely. You don’t want to just keep working and working just because you can work. Sometimes you want to be selective with those jobs and make sure you pick the stuff that’s right for you. And that’s not really draining too much of your energy. Make sure it’s the right timing, of course, as well.
And I feel like that’s kind of where I found myself, just working on Power and trying to just become the best I can be for this show. I’ve kind of devoted myself to this show a lot because they put a lot into me by believing in me to carry the show on my shoulders. So, I definitely been taking a lot of time to just really devote myself to this role.
But you definitely got to give yourself time to live and breathe and be a human at the same time because when you’re in work season, sometimes it could feel like you’re a machine. Sometimes you feel like you’re a robot standing. You wake up on routine then work until night, go back early mornings, late nights. So after that, after you get that work done, sometimes you got to kick back. You always remind yourself that you obviously still got a life to live. You don’t want to overwork yourself.
But you do want to work so you know you can relax in the future. So, definitely stay working, but also got to have a space and take your time and enjoy life while you can because you never know what can happen.
Yes, work-life balance is very important. If it’s one thing I learned during this pandemic, you touched on it with your role as ‘Riq. A part like that can get you typecast. Do you ever fear that happening to you as you continue to play ‘Riq and continue in this role?
It’s definitely a thought in my head a lot because, like I said, with the time that I’ve taken to devote myself to this character, a lot of people, the audience, they haven’t seen me on the screen in a different space in a while, so that’s definitely a thought in my head. But as I said, you just got to keep working and obviously just knowing yourself and being confident in your work and knowing your talent and knowing what you can do with your talent.
You can never let those kinds of thoughts really weigh you down. And, at the end of the day, you got to know what you’re doing. Like I said, I knew what I wanted to do was kind of just: sit down, lockdown and devote myself to this character. So, I would definitely say maybe after season four, now that we’re about to start filming that, I would definitely say after season four’s hiatus I kind of feel myself very comfortable in Tariq’s shoes.
I’ve been playing the character for a long time, but now I find myself in a rhythm to where I’m not doing so much figuring out. And I kind of have the blueprint down pact so the hiatus of season four, once I’m done with season four, I’ll definitely probably use that break and definitely step into some different roles to give the audience an opportunity to see me on the screen in a different space, rather than just as Tariq.
Do you have a vision for life after Power, and what would you like to see yourself doing after if you can? Are any shows or movie franchises that Michael Rainey Jr. would love to be a part of?
MRJ: Definitely. Obviously, right now, me and Gianni [Paolo], just started our production company [Twenty Two Entertainment], so even on the hiatus, if it’s just chill, we have the production company to work on. We work on getting TV shows and films under the belt of that, building the credibility of our production company.
But as far as TV shows and movies go, I’m with it all. I’m ready for comedy. I’m ready for action. I’m ready to step into any type of shoes. I’m ready. So whatever clothes I feel like wearing, if it feels right for me within the next year, I’m going to put in some work on it.
How about Michael Rainey in the MCU? That might work. Everybody’s getting in on that action. Get you some of that Marvel money. Get you a Marvel bag.
MRJ: Sure. Definitely.
All right. I got to ask, ‘Riq is always late. Is he going to get himself a car, man? I think it’s time ‘Riq gets himself a car.
MRJ: Yeah. That boy ‘Riq has been getting around on foot for a long time. All this money he’s making, I don’t know what he’s spending it on. Obviously, he got lawyer fees, his mama’s lawyer fees, but at this point, it’s time for a whip. You’re in New York. It’s time for a whip, so hopefully season three, he gets a set of wheels. They see him pushing it around New York City. But I know he be tired.
I know you’re tired of running up on people.
Man, I’m telling you, in season one, the first opening scene where Tariq is super late, and he’s just running around campus for the first few scenes of the show, I’m telling you, bro, that day, I was tired. My legs were sore after that day. I don’t know how much running I did after that. That was a crazy day. Now that I think about it, I was doing a lot of running when we were filming that day. That kind of brought me back to that first day on set.
But yeah, hopefully, they see the boy Tariq in the whip this year.
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